Former school employee wins $100K settlement
By Gordon Dritschilo
Staff Writer | May 06,2013
Sharon Stearns is getting $100,000 and an apology in the settlement of her lawsuit against the Addison Central Supervisory Union.
Stearns, who lives in Brandon and was business manager at the district for nine years, had sued her former employer in Rutland civil court for breach of contract, retaliation and bad faith conduct. The district includes Bridport, Cornwall, Ripton, Salisbury, Shoreham, Weybridge and Middlebury.
According to a release put out by her attorneys, Stearns was placed on administrative leave after questioning the practices of then-superintendent Lee Sease.
“The apology was highly important to her,” attorney Norman Watts said Thursday. “They ran her through a nightmarish mill before she left.”
Stearns went to the union school board in late 2010, according to the settlement, with concerns about Sease not mailing annual reports according to the law and not properly paying overtime to hourly staff. Sease placed Stearns on administrative leave, according to her lawyers.
A letter written as part of the settlement and signed by Superintendent Gail Conley says the board chose not to renew Sease’s contract and invited Stearns to return to work, but Stearns resigned her position.
“On behalf of the board of ACSU, I can relate that there are substantial regrets about the previous Superintendent’s leadership void in our ACSU central office during Sharon’s tenure,” Conley wrote. “This leadership void created a negative impact on the central office personnel including Sharon.”
Watts said Stearns has recently completed a master’s degree in public accounting and is about to start a new career as a CPA.
Watts said the settlement was reached after a mediation session that ran until 10:30 p.m. and the letter from Conley was a key part of the agreement.
“That side of it, vindication for her blowing the whistle on inappropriate and possibly illegal activities, that’s important to her,” Watts said.
Conley did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Thursday.